Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Adventure Comics #411

One of the running themes in this season of Supergirl has been the fear of aliens and reactions to that fear. When the President recommends alien amnesty, there is some push back. Lillian Luthor and Cadmus whole purpose is the rid Earth of all aliens. That sort of blanket statement ... 'All Aliens are Bad' ... is clear prejudice. Sure there are evil aliens. But most are just trying to live their lives.

Of course, this is also commentary on our current world. When 'Not all ____' and #BlackLivesMatter and the attitudes of thecurrent political landscape all scream division rather than unity, we need to have re-assess things. And so allegories that spur conversation can help people wrap their heads around the concept of equality.

And with that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to review Adventure Comics #411, a story which explores this very issue. It amazes me that an issue from 1971 could be so timely for our 2016 world. It feels as if not much has changed in 45 years. In fact, some of the panels are eerie.

"The Alien Among Us" was written by John Albano with luscious art by Bob Oksner. And like many stories from this period, it moves along at a very brisk pace.

We open with Linda Danvers at her job as news camera operator. Her crew hears that an alien seems to be falling to Earth. Realizing that this could be a job for Supergirl, Linda clocks out and rushes off.

And above the Earth, Supergirl discovers that yes indeed an alien is plummeting to the planet. The alien is definitely odd looking with gnarled hands and feet, antennae, and odd suit.

Who is he? Why is he here?

The protective bubble the alien is surrounded by explodes as it enters the atmosphere forcing Supergirl fly off and literally put out fires and save people from explosions. Luckily, the alien lands in a lake so he doesn't splatter on the ground. Awake, he stumbles off.

Unfortunately, Supergirl is loses him and so cannot interact. He is on his own.

The idea of the protective suit exploding is an excuse to both see Supergirl in action and allow the alien to skulk away.

We never learn what happened to the alien's ship or who he really is. On the streets of San Francisco, he thinks how he needs help to get to back to his planet. He is basically marooned on Earth and just wants to get home.

But he is rightfully fearful of how people on Earth will respond to aliens. He overhears a news program state how the alien most likely carries germs and should be avoided. The alien is dumbfounded by this allegation. What alien doesn't undergo a process of killing all germs before heading into space.

But Earth continues to disappoint.

The first humans the alien actually interacts with is a bunch of young punks who want to rob him. Brandishing a swithblade, these three threaten him.

And maybe the alien doesn't do himself any favors by lashing out against these criminal. He uses his weapons and strength to thrash them.

That said, I don't know how else he should respond but with force.

Wandering down the streets, the police drive up.

Now remember, this alien is simply walking down the street. But the officer doesn't waste much time in brandishing a weapon and shooting him in the back. This is chillingly prescient.

And again, the alien decides to react in turn. He picks up the car and smashes it. Supergirl has to streak in to save people and stop the destruction. But once again, while distracted with the rescues, the alien is able to hide.

It is easy to see what Albano is doing here. Who is the villain of this piece? Who are the monsters?

But things get worse because the bureaucrats come into the picture. Before Supergirl can try to find the alien, she hears a message that she must head to the Town Hall and meet with the city council.

There a bunch of angry men tell her off. The alien is a menace. They forbid Supergirl from interfering in their hunt for the monster. They even bring up prior stories in this Adventure run where Supergirl seemed to help aliens instead of humans (not necessarily true).

But they are angry. Not only do they throw the alien under the bus, they show their misogyny. Their comments are cringe-worthy. She couldn't do a man's work. And a woman flying and fighting crime is ridiculous.

So all the prejudices are coming to the surface.

And then anger and misinformation hits the boiling point. The media reports that the alien can most likely change shape and hide amongst us waiting to attack (again prescient of the concern for terrorists hiding in our midst).

Fear overwhelms people and so anyone and everyone considered 'different' is attacked by the mob. Someone with a physical deformity, a hippie in a dashiki, and even someone with a speech impediment - they all are attacked by average folk afraid.

Supergirl wonders 'how can civilized people act so vicious'?

Indeed Supergirl ... indeed ...

With his weapons empty, the alien hides in an alley and ends up meeting a young boy. The young boy takes pity on the alien and brings him into his apartment building. He feeds the alien and talks about Earth.

The boy's left arm is paralyzed for some reason and people have teased him for being different. So he has learned to ignore what people say. That's why he trusts the alien enough to help. He doesn't believe the negative things being said. Surprised by this, the alien gives the boy some medicine which might help.

But the boy's father isn't quite as open minded. He sees the aliens and calls the authorities.

This leads to one final confrontation.

The army rolls in with a tank. The bureaucrats are there, reminding Supergirl she can't interfere. She begs to be allowed to go talk to the alien but before she can do anything the tank fires, killing the alien.

But his medicines have worked. The boy can use his arm now.

So we get this powerful end panel of everyone rather solemnly looking over the alien they were so eager to kill. He wasn't a dangerous monster at all.

Whew ... certainly packs a bit of a wallop. I suppose Supergirl had very little to do here. One way to end this story would have been for her to stop the tank mortar, give an inspirational speech, and save the day. I am sure that is how a Superman story would end.

But Supergirl affords a little more leeway. She can fail. She isn't infallible like her cousin. She's learning. And sometimes a sad ending resonates more. This certainly is a scene we see play out everyday in real life. Who amongst us will stand up and try to be a hero and stop this?

While this doesn't stand out as an important comic for a Supergirl collection, it is decent (if oversimplified) look at issues which still plague us today. When you see it in the dollar bin, buy it.

Overall grade: B+


John (somewhere in England) said...

This was one of the best Supergirl stories from that era and I fully agree that it's still relevant to the world of 2016. If the story has a weakness which makes it seem slightly dated, it's that Supergirl made no effort to defend herself from the misogynistic accusations thrown at her by the apparently all-male members of the town council. I would hope that the Supergirl of 2016 would fire a few sharp remarks back at her accusers.

Martin Gray said...

Great review, this was one of the first Supergirl stories I ever bought as a kid, and I loved its sad tone. When J'emm, Son of Saturn came out years ago, it reminded me of this one, with the confused alien and the cute kid. We've had that again recently in Rob Williams' excellent Martian Manhunter (whom J'emm was originally going to be, of course), series, via Mr Biscuits.

Has anyone outside of a Superman comic EVER said Great Scott?

It's ironic (choke) that even Supergirl thinks of this marooned spaceman as a 'creature'.

I love that severe crop on Supergirl's head, Oksner was the best!

That final panel is powerful, heartbreaking.

This issue is an underappreciated gem, thank you for getting the word out. If DC ever do a Relevance collection this deserves a place (and why DOESN'T DC do this, it's interesting social history).

Scott said...

I remember this from my childhood. I am saddened that it remains so relevant, but glad you chose to highlight it.

Anonymous said...

Let the record show that the Adventure Comics Letter Column of 1971 duly took the writers to task for depicting Supergirl's passive reaction to the City Council's chauvinistic vituperation. The times weren't quite so backward.
I'd a loved it if she'd narrowed her eyes and told them "Okay fine call The Green Arrow the next time an Earthquake Hits the City!"
Dang Bob Oksner showed Kara to advantage she looks stunning in every single panel no wonder I've always loved the Hot Pants Costume Variant!
Poor Kara all her powers and she still can't over come bigotry....this is less of a comic book story and more of a short tragic parable.....very relevant all of a sudden and much in the tone of the current TV show as well.